Energy

Metallic nanofoam wrings hydrogen out of water more efficiently

Metallic nanofoam wrings hydro...
Researchers at Washington State University have developed a "nanofoam" out of nickel and iron, creating a more efficient and less expensive catalyst for water electrolysis
Researchers at Washington State University have developed a "nanofoam" out of nickel and iron, creating a more efficient and less expensive catalyst for water electrolysis
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Researchers at Washington State University have developed a "nanofoam" out of nickel and iron, creating a more efficient and less expensive catalyst for water electrolysis
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Researchers at Washington State University have developed a "nanofoam" out of nickel and iron, creating a more efficient and less expensive catalyst for water electrolysis
Yuehe Lin (left) and Shaofang Fu, two WSU researchers working on the nanofoam project
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Yuehe Lin (left) and Shaofang Fu, two WSU researchers working on the nanofoam project

Hydrogen could be a key renewable fuel source in the future, but considering it's the most abundant element in the universe it's surprisingly tricky to produce. Zapping hydrogen out of water through a process called electrolysis is the cleanest way, but the catalysts required are rare-Earth metals like platinum. Researchers at Washington State University have now developed a quick and inexpensive alternative, making a "nanofoam" catalyst out of nickel and iron that they say performed better than usual.

Water electrolysis hasn't quite made it to industrial scale yet, mostly due to the costs of those catalysts and the high energy input required to trigger the reaction. Improving these areas is a key area of research, with scientists tackling the problem by using catalysts such as inexpensive molybdenum sulfide, and hybrid solid-state electrolyzers.

Yuehe Lin (left) and Shaofang Fu, two WSU researchers working on the nanofoam project
Yuehe Lin (left) and Shaofang Fu, two WSU researchers working on the nanofoam project

The WSU researchers used nickel and iron, two cheap and abundant metals, as a catalyst. From those they created a nanofoam, a material that resembles a sponge on the atomic level. With a large amount of surface area making contact with the water, the nanofoam is able to efficiently trigger the reaction, and the team found that the material worked better and required less energy than the more expensive catalysts, losing very little activity over a 12-hour stability test.

Large amounts of the nanofoam can be produced relatively cheaply and apparently in a matter of minutes. The researchers haven't outlined the process involved to make it, but they describe it as a "very simple approach that could be used easily in large-scale production."

With the lab tests proving promising, the next steps for the researchers is to scale things up for larger-scale tests.

The research was published in the journal Nano Energy.

Source: Washington State University

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